Google Inc. said Friday it had filed for European Union permission to take over online ad tracker DoubleClick, a $3.1 billion deal that has already stirred up rivals and data privacy advocates concerned about the control it will give the company over Internet advertising.
"We asked the European Commission to look at the proposed acquisition. We believe this deal is positive for both users and advertisers and fosters competition," Google's antitrust counsel Julia Holtz said in a statement.
But search engine rival Yahoo Inc. immediately said the deal raised important questions about the future of Internet advertising.
"These questions warrant an in-depth debate and review by a broad range of Internet publishers, advertisers, service providers and governments in Europe and elsewhere," said Yahoo Europe's managing director Toby Coppel.
Microsoft Corp. — which had wanted to buy DoubleClick — said its views had not changed since April when it warned that the Google deal "raised serious competition and privacy concerns" by giving unprecedented control over online advertising.
The world's largest Internet search engine, relies on its cookies and user logs to compile information of the search terms entered into specific Web browsers as well as other potentially sensitive online information.
The company says the data help its search engine better understand its users so it can deliver more relevant results and advertisements.
Google took the unusual step of asking EU regulators to start looking at "all aspects of the transaction" two months ago before filing for official approval.
Once the EU logs a request to clear a deal, it has a tight deadline of 25 working days before deciding to wave it through or open a deeper investigation that can take up to four months.
During that time it can ask a company to make changes to the deal in order to eliminate antitrust worries. These can see companies sell off units or make binding promises to do things differently.
Google refused to comment on what it might do to win EU approval, saying it was too early to discuss.
But several technology companies, who did not want to be named because the case was confidential, have said in recent weeks they have received questionnaires from the European Commission asking for their views on the deal — a highly unusual move for regulators.
They cite concerns on how the deal will affect online advertising and data privacy because Google will have access to a huge amount of data on how people use the Web and what they search for that is valuable to advertisers.
New York-based DoubleClick helps its customers place and track online advertising, including search ads, which Google — more than its nearest search competitors Yahoo and Microsoft Corp. — has turned into an extremely lucrative business.
It places ads on Web pages that targeted consumers are likely to use — generating money for smaller publishers and lesser-visited pages.
At the moment neither publishers, search engines or advertisers know the full price each pay or receive for ads. DoubleClick is the messenger between them all and knowing its prices could allow a publisher or search engine to increase the margin it charges each end.
Targeted online advertising is valuable because of the history built up over time on users — so it is difficult for new companies without that data to enter. Sharing this information — the ideal answer to reduce antitrust concerns — raises new ones on data privacy.
The European Consumers Organization BEUC also said it was sticking by a July letter to regulators when it said the takeover could damage EU privacy rights and limit consumers' choice of Web content.
It said that people who agreed to give their details to DoubleClick could not have imagined this would be transferred to Google — and this would be worse for the many consumers who are unaware that the companies build up profiles about users.
Their plea came after U.S. consumer privacy advocacy groups asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to look at how the two companies, when combined, could exploit enormous amounts of personal information about users as they click on Web pages and applications.